Marguerite Nelson thought the minibus looked adorable. Kyle Delahunt said the ride was enjoyable. And Shirley Moises called it “the wave of the future.”

They were among the 80 or so people who showed up Friday on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis to try out a driverless shuttle bus.

As part of the Super Bowl hoopla, the Minnesota Department of Transportation offered free shuttle rides Friday on the mall between 3rd and 4th streets. The rides will continue, subject to weather conditions, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

MnDOT has been testing the driverless vehicle since last month on a course in Monticello. Officials now are interested in seeing how people react to riding a bus with no steering wheel and no gas pedal.

Although the minibus can hold up to 12 passengers, Friday’s runs on the mall were limited to six seated riders. The bus crept at 5 mph along a preprogrammed, GPS-guided path, never close to its top speed of 25 mph.

Delahunt said his family had planned on taking a ride because they wanted a Super Bowl experience without having to be downtown during the actual event. The ride, he said, made him “want it sooner rather than later.”

Michael Kronzer, MnDOT’s intelligent transportation systems project manager, said Minnesota’s low temperatures have challenged the vehicle’s battery life during testing.

MnDOT expects to continue tests on the minibus until at least April. EasyMile, a French company that made the bus, and Maplewood-based 3M Co. are collaborating on the project.

 

Kelly Busche is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.